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Retired Judge Defeats Councilman in San Antonio Mayor Race

June 08, 2005|Scott Gold | Times Staff Writer

SAN ANTONIO — Phil Hardberger, a former judge drafted into politics while he was trying to retire to his sailboat, was elected mayor of San Antonio on Tuesday night, outpacing a young city councilman billed as a rising political star.

Hardberger, 70, beat 30-year-old Julian Castro, 51.5% to 48.5%.

Hardberger declared victory shortly after midnight, taking the stage at an election-night rally held at a former downtown rail depot.

"It is the beginning, I think, of a new day for San Antonio," he told supporters. "There is so much we can do.... Leadership is here."

As for Castro, Hardberger said: "He was one tough ... scrapper. And I'm glad it's over."

At his campaign headquarters, Castro conceded the race. He called for a united city -- "united behind a common vision for progress, for economic development and growth, for neighborhoods where people can be proud to live ... where people don't look at differences as something that divides them but something they can appreciate."

Castro cited the biblical passage that there was a "time for every purpose."

"There is," he said, as supporters stood behind him on the stage. "This just wasn't our time. But it will be -- one day."

Hardberger had predicted that his early decision to campaign citywide, while his primary opponents concentrated on their home turfs, would help him prevail in the runoff election.

"It was like flowers planted in the ground," he said. "When spring came, those flowers came into bloom. The seeds of victory were there all along."

Latino leaders across the nation had watched the race with the hope that San Antonio would become the second major city in less than a month to elect a Latino mayor, following the election in Los Angeles of Antonio Villaraigosa.

"We put all of our heart and soul into this campaign," Castro said. "Win or lose, San Antonio has a great future, and that's very encouraging."

The winner will replace Ed Garza, who was forced from office after four years by one of the nation's most restrictive term limit laws. The new mayor will serve a two-year term and will oversee the eighth-largest city in the country, with 12,000 municipal employees and a $1.4-billion annual budget.

Hardberger, once chief justice of the Texas 4th Court of Appeals, retired in 2003 and had set off on an extensive sailing expedition with his wife, Linda. Their plan was not out of character; an accomplished adventurer, Hardberger has climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro and sailed across the Atlantic Ocean.

Long a popular figure in San Antonio, Hardberger was persuaded to run after seeing the results of an e-mail campaign attempting to draft him into the race. He spent more than $400,000 of his own money on the election.

Hardberger and Castro wound up in a runoff after being the top vote-getters among seven candidates in the May general election. Castro won 42% of that vote, while Hardberger got 30%.

Castro had been ahead in the polls going into the May contest. But Hardberger became the front-runner in the runoff after Councilman Carroll W. Schubert, who failed to make the runoff, threw his support to the former judge.

Castro and his twin brother, Joaquin, who serves in the Texas Legislature, were raised in a working-class neighborhood by their mother, Rosie Castro, a well-known activist in the Chicano movement. They went on to graduate together from Stanford University and Harvard Law School before coming home. Julian Castro has served on the City Council for four years.

Over the last month, Castro and Hardberger fought to distinguish themselves from one another: Hardberger stuck largely to nuts-and-bots issues such as parks and flood control, while Castro pitched himself as a visionary with a plan to turn San Antonio into a world-class city while retaining its distinctive identity.

But political advertising and candidate debates made it apparent that the two men -- both attorneys and Democrats -- did not disagree fundamentally on many issues. The campaign degenerated into bitter personal and professional attacks.

Castro alleged that Hardberger -- named by Texas lawyers as the best judge in the state two years ago -- overturned an inordinate number of convictions while on the bench.

In one case, he said, Hardberger had on a technicality overturned the conviction of a man who had slit the throat of a "3-year-old boy named John John."

"That's a clear pattern of bad judgment, and that does matter," Castro said.

Hardberger replied that Castro was a Harvard-trained attorney who understood that judges had an obligation to follow the law, even if they didn't like the outcome. Voters, it seemed, were put off by the negative campaign.

Hardberger said he was surprised by how negative the race had turned.

"But that's all water under the bridge now," he said. "All is forgiven. We need to bind the wounds and move forward."

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